The Barking Ghost is an entry in the series I had seen at book fairs and stores when I was a kid and always wanted to read, but never had the opportunity to buy (until now!). The cover is actually one of my favorites in the series, and a ghost dog seems like it would make for an interesting plot device. Spoiler: it didn’t.
Funny enough, this is one of R. L. Stine’s least favorite Goosebumps books. (Has he READ Chicken Chicken?) I wonder if that had any weight on the price of this book at Amazon. Both of the books he listed as least favorites (the other one being Go Eat Worms!) were only $1.99. I’m glad I didn’t spend more than that on this.
Well, let’s have a go at this thing. As with all of my reviews, if you have not yet read this book and are wary of spoilers, skip this entry.
This is not one of the books brought back for the Classic Goosebumps series, so there is only one cover. I’m happy because this cover is pretty awesome. Everything works for it: the snarl on the dog’s face, the dog’s red eyes, the dark background, and what I can only assume is moonlight on the dog’s head. The dog on the cover is actually a black lab, not a white dog like I originally thought when I saw the cover as a kid, so the lighter color on its head is a result of light. I like that not all of the dog can be seen, and that the parts of the dog in view are vicious and unsettling. It really sets the tone for this book. If only the book held up.
Based on the cover, I had hoped that this book would be like a toned down version of Stephen King’s Cujo.
It wasn’t. It’s hard not to draw comparisons via the covers, though.
Tagline: Bad dog. Really BAD dog.
This tagline is pretty damn awesome. It, along with the cover painting pulled me in and made me want to buy this book as a kid (Alas, I had no money). Unfortunately, again, the book does not hold up to that awesomeness.
I read somewhere that Stine wrote these books in eight days. This is my second entry into this series as an adult, and I’m noticing a consistency: flat characters; the characters don’t have a lot of depth. They only got to live in Stine’s head for eight days, so it makes sense. I don’t feel like that is necessarily bad for a quick, short read like a Goosebumps book, and as I wrote in several other places, I like these books despite their faults, so I’m not bashing Stine by making this observation. I only bring it up to point out that the main character in both of the Goosebumps books I’ve read so far have had a dominating character trait. In Night of the Living Dummy, Kris Powell’s was competitiveness. In The Barking Ghost, Cooper Holmes’ is fear. In short, Cooper is a scaredy cat. Interesting for a book about a dog.
Cooper and his family have just moved from an apartment in Boston to a house deep in the woods in Maine. Cooper is struggling to adjust to his new room and new house, and spends the first night in his new place awake and scared, looking out the window to investigate sounds he hears. He sees a monster that is actually a rabbit and a snake that is actually a garden hose. He hears breathing under his bed which turns out to be his older brother Mickey. Mickey enjoys scaring Cooper. Their father comes in and reprimands Mickey. When he and Mickey leave the room, Cooper hears dogs outside his window. He looks out, but discovers nothing.
That’s this book in a nutshell, and that’s my biggest problem with it: it seems like nothing happens. Because Cooper is scared of everything, and everything he’s afraid of turns out to be benign, nothing in this book is scary. For a book that warned me to beware for a scare, that’s disappointing.
Cooper goes off in the woods the next morning to search for evidence of dogs. While in the woods, he runs into a girl named Margaret Ferguson, who goes by Fergie. Unlike Cooper, Fergie is not a scaredy cat because Big Girls Don’t Cry. She’s just weird.
Fergie tells Cooper that his house and the woods are haunted, and that he must convince his family to move away immediately. During her exchange with him, she whispers, “Dogs,” but later doesn’t remember saying anything about dogs. I can see what Stine was trying to do here, and had he taken it further and backed it up, it would have been creepy, but it didn’t go anywhere. I’ll explain a little further down this entry.
Fergie runs home, leaving Cooper alone, and two black labs chase Cooper home. He tries to tell his family what Fergie told him, and about the dogs, but they insist he’s lying and just stressed about going to a new school. Since Cooper is scared of literally everything, I can understand why his family doesn’t take his fears that seriously.
Cooper spends the rest of the day unpacking, cleaning, and setting up his collection of 77 snow domes. Truly fascinating prose. Cooper wants to set them up by size, and then alphabeticall– actually, no one cares.
That night, Cooper hears barking from inside his house and goes to the living room to investigate. He finds chips scattered about and the bag ripped to shreds. Mickey shows up and accuses Cooper of making the mess himself in an attempt to convince their parents that the house is haunted.
The next morning, Cooper goes back in the woods and runs into Fergie again. She feels bad for Cooper and apologizes for scaring him. She admits that Mickey put her up to convincing Cooper that the woods and their house are haunted. Oh, Mickey.
Mickey stumbles into the woods with ripped clothing, deep gashes on his face, and blood running down his neck, and collapses. Cooper runs to him freaking out, and Mickey starts laughing and says, “What a wimp! Do you have to fall for the fake blood every time?” Mickey must be really bored to go through that much trouble to prank his brother. I mean, seriously, who goes that far?
That night, Fergie spends the night at the Holmes’ because her parents are out of town. She and Cooper decide to get Mickey back by pranking him with a fake rat on a string. I kid you not. That’s the master plan they came up with. Mickey outsmarts them, however, by putting blankets and towels under his bedspread to trick them into thinking he was asleep, and hiding in the closet where Fergie and Cooper decided to hide to enact their prank.
Cooper and Fergie find the dogs inside the house again. They get trapped by the dogs in the living room until Cooper’s mom turns on a light. The dogs are nowhere to be seen. When Cooper’s mom goes back to bed, Cooper and Fergie decide to go outside that night to find the dogs and learn more about them.
When they get outside, the dogs tug on Cooper and Fergie’s clothes. Fergie determines that the dogs don’t want to hurt them, but want to show them something. They follow the dogs into the woods to an abandoned shack. The dogs shove Cooper and Fergie into the shack, where they fall and fall and fall.
They’re in the Changing Room. The dogs explain to them that they are not dogs, but rather people who had been cursed into roaming the woods as ghost dogs, and that they had been trying to get two people to the Changing Room for nearly a hundred years to trade places. Cooper and Fergie exit the shack as dogs.
The dogs, posing as Cooper and Fergie, return home. Cooper and Fergie as dogs try to convince Cooper’s parents that they are Cooper and Fergie, but every time Cooper tries to talk it comes out as, “woof, woof, woof, woof.” I can’t make this crap up.
Cooper tries to write his parents a note, but discovers that dogs can’t hold pens!
In a final, desperate move, Cooper tries to convince his parents that he is Cooper by interrupting their dinner and eating the liver his mom had prepared after the fake Cooper said he didn’t like liver, surprising his mother who knows liver is Cooper’s favorite. Unsurprisingly, Cooper’s plan doesn’t work. Cooper’s parents decide to call the pound. I’m not sure why Cooper and Fergie are scared of the potential pound since they can walk through walls as ghosts, but whatever.
Now this is where I have an issue with this book. Earlier I mentioned that Fergie had whispered, “Dogs,” to Cooper but had no recollection of doing so. Was Fergie possessed by the dogs? Were they communicating through her? If so, why couldn’t Cooper and Fergie do that now to communicate with Cooper’s parents? Ah, what am I doing?! I’m trying to make an R. L. Stine book make sense.
Cooper and Fergie eventually get Cooper’s family outside and start dragging the fake Cooper and Fergie to the shack/Changing Room. Cooper’s parents even follow, completely okay that dogs are biting and dragging the kids by their appendages and not clothing this time, and curious to see what the dogs want to show them. Cooper and Fergie shove the fake Cooper and Fergie into the Changing Room and follow,
…to switch places with two chipmunks who had somehow gotten in the shack. ALVIN!
The dogs run out and away from each other, Fake Cooper and Fergie leave with Cooper’s parents, and Cooper and Fergie exit the shack and search for acorns.
I want the hour I spent reading this book back.
I highlighted a couple LOL passages from this book and thought it’d be fun to share them here.
He was an excellent dog-barker. He practiced it all the time.
“But, wait! Dad! It’s me, Cooper!” I tried to yell. But all that came out was “Woof! Woof! Woof!”